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Cinessance: The ‘Netflix of French film’ launched in North America—Meet founder Clément Monnet

From sparring with his sister and with friends about quotes from classic French films such as the iconic La Cité de la Peur to launching a new French Film streaming platform in the US called Cinessance—this is the life of Clément Monnet, born in Clermont-Ferrand in the centre of France in the superb Auvergne-Rhone-Alps region, but let’s settle in and find out more.

As the French government has long sponsored the local making and exporting of film it’s never surprising to meet a French national who is bespotted by the films themselves, the actors, screenwriters, directors, and producers of classic French films and also those films being produced today. They’re all experts – the entire population, or so it seems to someone not brought up in France.

Introducing Clément Monnet

Cinessance Clément Monnet

Meet Clément, a French serial entrepreneur based in San Francisco, who’s lived across four continents – Europe, Asia, South America, and North America. Whilst in the United States, Clément has created new businesses from scratch including Voom, the “Uber for Helicopters”, incubated by Airbus, Skydex (now Altaport), an “Airbnb for helipads”, and recently, as co-founder and CEO he created Cinessance, the “Netflix of French film” for all the francophiles, francophones, and movie fans in the world. He’s fascinated with technology, cinema, sport, politics and of course French film.

Clément Monnet’s motivation

I’m always trying to understand what drives entrepreneurs to take risks and start new businesses.

When I spoke with Clément last week he took me back to explore the French film industry over the years and his motivation to launch yet another startup in the USA. During our conversation, I was fully immersed in the world of French film, history, and culture: perfect for me! Clément explained that his motivation was twofold.

  • Firstly, he explained that once he moved from France, to live abroad in various countries, he has become more and more proud of being French. Clément said he has consciously become an unofficial French Ambassador. He has even focused on identifying the gaps in his knowledge and studying French history etc to better be positioned to explain and promote France. Having lived outside France for more than 10 years he and wants to ‘give back. Clement says he’s a stronger advocate of France than when he lived there!
  • And the second reason was when he identified a problem. When trying to watch French film on streaming platforms and from the US he became frustrated. The catalog of films on offer was too limited! And as a French film buff, he knew how much quality french film content was available.

So, out of this frustration, combined with his film passion and knowledge and his startup tech experience Cinessance was born in November 2021! Clément is really pleased with progress – it’s only a couple of months since the launch, but subscriptions are growing at an enviable rate. Next, of course, he’ll be contending with the challenge of juggling subscription growth with keeping the churn rate low—a balancing act!

Introducing Cinessance: new French film streaming platform

So what is Cinessance? Why should you check it out?

  • A niche or specialised French film streaming service
  • Currently offered to the USA and Canada audience, but with plans for expansion beyond those shores.
  • At launch a cataloge of around 100 French films, comprising classics and new film,
  • and with plans to expand this to 500 films including ‘new new films’ by the end of 2022.
  • What you may ask are ‘new new films’? I did. Clément described these as films that are still being shown in theatres in France. To me it’s unusual to have access to such new films on streaming platforms—how refreshing, how exciting!
  • Cinessance’s catalogue already offers movies starring classing actors such as Gérard Depardieu, Catherine Deneuve, Jean Gabin, and Louis de Funès, as well as modern actors such as Jean Dujardin, Ana Girardot, Marion Cotillard, and Vincent Cassel.
  • Cinessance also offers a place to explore the catalogues of beloved actresses such as Audrey Tautou from Amélie, Camille Cottin from the recent hit show Call My Agent, and Romy Schneider from the classic 1969 movie La Piscine, which was revived for an unprecedented 16 weeks in New York City this past summer.
  • “Different subtitles are being added as we speak,” he explains. “What is most important to us is to always have French audio plus the local language, so when we launch in South America we’ll add Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, and eventually also add French subtitles.

I was keen to understand what will cause Cinessance to stand out in a crowded streaming marketplace.

  • Exclusive focus on French Film!
  • There are features that competitors don’t have and they look very promising, such as a ‘details’ tab’ on each title with information about the cast and crew. The app launched with English subtitles on each title, but no French subtitles if you’re seeking to learn French, and no subtitles in other languages—yet! But watch this space.
  • Next they’re building a community around the passion and the service.
  • As an initiative to avoid decision fatigue where the audience spends 2 hours scrolling and trying to find something to watch! You know about that too I’m sure – so frustrating! As a subscriber you’ll have the ability to list and rank the films you’ve seen and share with fellow subscribers. Oh, how refreshing! Old school referrals from real people, from your friends rather than AI! I’m frequently frustrated by what AI believes I’ll love—they’re almost 99.9% wrong!
  • Then there’s the club the Cineclub and events. The VIP club is currently open. This is all free to subscribers.

Blending passion & tech expertise resulted in Cinessance

Cinessance is a blend of Clément’s passion and technical expertise. This is a blend that most of us seek!

How to ‘turn your passion into your job and you never work another day in your life,’ – or so the old adage goes. Cinessance is a curated library that aims to teach audiences about that category of cinema, and eventually about French culture in general… and let’s not forget the French language learning opportunity!

“I want Cinessance to become like a book for students when they enter the class. I want people that are teaching French to be able to have a subscription to Cinessance where they can have English subtitles, maybe at first before moving to French subtitles, and then ultimately remove the subtitles. I really want this to become a tool for people to learn French, and when you learn about the language you want to learn about the culture.” Clément told Rafael Motamayor of Vulture.

Cinessance meets niche streaming demand

We spoke about the increasing trend where new streaming platforms are being launched and that they are becoming more and more niche. This took me back to remembering how cable developed. At that time we subscribed to a general channel, then one cable channel for a particular sport or arts and culture, news, etc.

And now we’re subscribing to between 3-4 streaming platforms to serve our needs (in the US & Canada). How many streaming platforms do you subscribe to?

Cinessance is available on iOS, Android, and web browsers via a US$6.99 (or $CA 8.99) monthly or a US$69.99 (or $CA 89.99) annual subscription – and don’t miss the Cinessance App.

Talking about the App: Rafael Motamayor reviews it and says: “The search function allows you to look up film titles, actors or directors’ names and genres easily and quickly. All titles come with English subtitles, but you can’t select the video quality, which automatically adjusts to the highest possible quality allowed by the source, and your internet connection.”

“The aim is to create a curated experience that can combat decision fatigue, and avoid spending two hours trying to find something to watch before giving up and not watching anything,” Clément explained. Oh how we all know about that!

How did France become so prominent in the Film industry?

And going back to Clement’s upbringing in France, he continued to educate me… In fact, the ‘protectionism’ of the French film industry has long fascinated me. However, I was not aware that a tussle around film between France and the US went way back. The Lumière Bros invented the first projector. But when they took it to the US, Thomas Edison objected and claimed that he’d invented it first. This was the beginning of the ongoing competition between France and the US about who was first and who was the best producer of films. Both countries make and export an enormous number of films each year, even today to the delight of the audience.

Whilst today France is the second-largest exporter of movies globally, only 3% of Netflix’s catalogue features French films, according to a recent study from Unifrance.

Protectionism of the French film industry was pursued by André Malraux after WWII when he was French minister of culture, back in the 60s. This resulted in France becoming prominent in the film industry right through to today. (‘Exception Culturelle FrancaiseCultural Exception in English). In each branch of culture, there is an automatic subsidy system for creative works. An example of these measures is the National Center of Cinematography and the moving image, which taxes cinema ticket sales and uses those funds to help the production or distribution of French cinema. Another example of protectionist measures is the audiovisual law (Loi sur l’audiovisuel) which specified for instance that “radio has to broadcast 40% French songs and, within this quota, 20% new talents.”

The effects of this policy in France are demonstrated by the fact that between 2005 and 2011, between 45% and 55% of its [France’s] film products were American imports, compared to 60 to 90% American imports in other European film markets.

Clement’s favourites: it didn’t seem hard to choose

But before we said au revoir I needed to find out about Clement’s favourite films, actors and screenwriters…

Screenwriter: definitely Michel Audiard!
Touchez pas au Grisbi, Un singe en Hiver, les tontons flingueurs, archimède le clochard…
Actors: Jean Gabin, Gérard Depardieu, Emmanuelle Béart, Romy Schneider, Michel Piccoli, Yves Montand
More contemporary Actors: Jean Dujardin, Gilles Lellouche, Benoît Poelvoorde.
Films:
1. Archimède le Clochard (The Magnificent Tramp)
2. Max et les Ferrailleurs (Max and the Junkmen)
3. Quatre Garçons Pleins d’Avenir (Four Hopefuls)
4. Mr et Mme Adelman (Mr & Mrs Adelman)
5. Fleuve Noir (Black Tide)
Are any of these your favourites too?

So, if you have some of your favourite French wine and snacks ready—baguettes et fromage et tout ça. And if you want to brush up on your French or polish up your film quotes, or just pretend you’re in France, now is the time to dive right into Cinessance. No more streaming fatigue for us Francophiles, Francophones, French expats, and international film buffs in North America with Cinessance.


Which are your favourite French films, screenwriters and actors? And what are your favourite film quotes? How about sharing them here – below in the comments section?



Image credits:
1. Clément Monnet during our conversation
2-12. copyright Cinessance
2-3. Film: Archimède le Clochard (The Magnificent Tramp)
4-6. Film: Fleuve Noir ( Black Tide)
7-9. Film: Mr et Mme Adelman ( Mr and Mrs Adelman)
10-12. Film: Max et le Ferrailleurs ( Max and the Junkmen)

Further reading:
1. Interview – Chris O’Brien – Forbes – text & audio – Clément Monnet
2. Live interview French American Chamber of Commerce San Francisco – Clément Monnet
3. Interview French Tech San Francisco – Clément Monnet



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